• The Associated Press

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Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport overpowered Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic in straight sets Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Pan Pacific Open.

Davenport, the defending champion, needed just 54 minutes at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium en route to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Benesova.

She said she knows things will get tougher in the semis, where Davenport will meet U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4) winner over Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.

“Hopefully with all the tennis I’ve played in the last three weeks I’ll be able to raise my level appropriately,” said Davenport, who lost last weekend’s Australian Open final to Serena Williams.

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova defeated fellow Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-3, 6-3 to book her place in the final four of the $1.3 million event.

She’ll face Japan’s Shinobu Asagoe in Saturday’s semifinals. Asagoe downed Russia’s Elena Dementieva 6-3, 6-4.

Second-seeded Sharapova faced little resistance in a lopsided win over sixth-seeded Likhovtseva.

“I started off well,” said Sharapova. “I tried to put pressure on her and was able to take control of the points on her serves.”

Sharapova opened up a 4-1 lead in the second set before Likhovtseva rallied to make it 4-3 when she broke the 17-year-old Russian in the seventh game.

Sharapova broke back in the next game and then closed out, finishing with a crosscourt backhand to win in 1 hour, 6 minutes.

Sharapova said she’s enjoying the challenge of being one of the highest-ranked players on the women’s tour.

“It’s harder to stay in the top five than to get there,” said Sharapova. “Everyone wants to beat you, but I’m prepared for that and I enjoy the challenge when people want to beat you.”

Dementieva withdraws

Kyodo News Russian partner Elena Dementieva of Russia, the doubles partner of Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, has withdrawn from the Toray Pan Pacific Open due to a sprained right finger, organizers said Friday.

Dementieva and Sugiyama, the third seeds in the $1.3 million event at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, will forfeit their semifinal match against Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu scheduled for Saturday, giving the Americans a place in Sunday’s final.

The 23-year-old Dementieva, a singles finalist at the French Open and U.S. Open in 2004, said she aggravated the injury to her right ring finger sustained Wednesday during practice. She lost to Shinobu Asagoe 6-3, 6-4 in the singles quarterfinals on Friday.

Sugiyama and Dementieva, seventh in the world singles rankings, paired for the first time in last year’s U.S. Open, only to have to withdraw from the semifinals due to a leg injury to Dementieva.

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